Tuesday 20 August 2019

Ndombele easing into Spurs life under wing of Sissoko

Good impression: Tanguy Ndombele celebrates scoring his side’s first goal against Aston Villa. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire
Good impression: Tanguy Ndombele celebrates scoring his side’s first goal against Aston Villa. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Sam Dean

Any French television viewers who had tuned in to watch Moussa Sissoko's post-match interview on Saturday night may have noticed someone else lurking in the background of the shot.

While Sissoko was carrying out his media duties in the mixed zone at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, speaking to the cameras about their 3-1 win over Aston Villa, another French midfielder was sheepishly hovering a few yards behind him, waiting to leave the stadium arm in arm with his friend.

For those who had followed Tottenham on their pre-season travels, it came as no surprise to see Tanguy Ndombele man-marking Sissoko again. Such is the strength of their bond that the Tottenham squad already refer to Sissoko as Ndombele's big brother.

Indeed, it spoke volumes for the closeness of their relationship that Ndombele was unwilling to leave Sissoko's side even if it meant hanging around in the dreaded interview area, a place most footballers treat as radioactive.

Sissoko has also doubled up as Ndombele's translator, extending his mentoring responsibilities far beyond the field of play.

This is no doubt a consequence of Ndombele's naturally introverted personality, but it is also because Sissoko has walked a similar path to the 22-year-old, making the same journey from France to England and shouldering similar expectations.

Together, big brother and little brother have cost Tottenham close to £100 million.

Until this opening-day victory, the assumption had been that Ndombele, the club's record signing from Lyon, would ultimately replace Sissoko, who turns 30 this week. All the evidence from Saturday's win, though, suggests that the partnership could become just as strong on the pitch as it has been behind the scenes.

As Tottenham trailed to John McGinn's early strike, it was increasingly Sissoko and Ndombele who delivered the forward thrust for Mauricio Pochettino's side.

The arrival of Christian Eriksen off the bench provided much-needed quality in the final third, but it was Ndombele and Sissoko who drove Tottenham forward from deeper positions in the second-half.

Sissoko did so in his usual style, carrying the ball from deep and surging past midfield opponents. Ndombele contributed with his passing, always trying to play vertically, and with his well-taken goal from the edge of the box.

Pounding

This is not to say that Ndombele was at his best. He was far from it, particularly in a difficult first half in which he was left pounding the turf in frustration.

Pochettino said the Frenchman was playing at only around 30 or 40pc of his potential. But there were fleeting moments when it became clear what he will bring to the team, and it was encouraging for the home fans that he was always so keen to move the ball up the pitch.

"The goal will be great for his confidence," said Harry Kane, whose two second-half strikes secured the win.

"He is a player who loves to get the ball in the right spaces. He uses his body and plays forward passes, which is great for us. And if he pops up with goals, it always helps. He's a great player and he's working hard. We're very happy to have him."

Kane also praised team-mate Christian Eriksen for "giving everything" for Tottenham despite making it clear that he wants to leave the club.

Eriksen played a vital role in Spurs' comeback, coming on for Harry Winks in the 64th minute when Mauricio Pochettino's side were trailing.

Eriksen's future is yet to be resolved, with the Danish midfielder able to leave the club for free when his contract expires next summer.

"I have been playing with him for five or six years and we know the qualities he has in terms of passes, assists and goals," said Kane.

"Whether he starts on the bench or not, the most important thing from our point of view is that he gives everything for the team.

"There has been a lot of speculation about his future, but as long as he is training hard and playing as hard as he can when he is here then that is all we can ask for. What will be, will be. We are happy to have him."

The midfield, with Sissoko and Ndombele either side of Winks, was the key battleground against Villa.

For all the new signings that have joined Dean Smith's side, it was telling that his midfielders - McGinn, Jack Grealish and Conor Hourihane - were all part of the team that won promotion last season.

In the first-half, especially, McGinn and Grealish were dominant. They sat in deep, yes, but they broke when they could with adventure and speed.

"It is important that we managed to keep the core of the team," said McGinn. "We made a lot of signings, which has been well documented, but we have kept the core of the team that knows how we play and knows what we are doing. Over the piece it looked like the right call."

Of course, they were worn down eventually as Tottenham tightened their grip.

It will be a source of great encouragement for Spurs that Sissoko and Ndombele, two French midfielders with an increasingly strong connection, were central to their success. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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